Editorial: Taking Advantage of California’s Retirees to Help Close the Budget Gap

Managerial volunteerism can play a key role in cutting California's costs.

The State of California’s perennial fiscal crisis calls for more effective long-term solutions. Not surprisingly, given the current state of the economy, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a fiscal emergency on December 1, 2008, warning that California was in danger of running out of daily operating cash within two months. He also called for a special session of the legislature to address the multi-billion budget deficit. Unfortunately, the crisis continues. The key to solving the problem is cutting costs and bureaucracy this is where technical and managerial volunteerism can play a key role.

Photo: Junial Enterprises

The State of California is blessed with a very talented pool of management retirees, whose expertise ranges from aerospace to financial markets. Why not tap this incredible resource to help alleviate our ongoing financial woes?

“Government at all levels is more effective when it partners with community groups and citizens to solve problems.”

Stephen Goldsmith, board chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service

The roots of volunteerism in America run deep. On the national scene, nearly 61 million Americans volunteered in their communities in 2007, giving 8.1 billion hours of service (worth more than $158 billion) to America’s communities,[1] and the numbers keep increasingthere were one million more volunteers in the United States in 2007 than 2002.

The State of California has long been on the forefront of recognizing the value of volunteerism. In 1994, then-Governor Pete Wilson created the California State Commission, which was originally known as the Commission on Improving Life Through Service, and in December 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order renaming the organization CaliforniaVolunteers.[2] The current structure consists of four major programs: AmeriCorps, Citizen Corps, Cesar Chavez Day of Service and Learning, and California Volunteer Matching Network. What is missing, however, is a vehicle for tapping retired technical and managerial talent to support the various state agencies.

Consider this: The Service Employees International Union recently called for a reduction in the number of information technology (IT) state contracts, in favor of having the work performed in-house.[3] The Union estimates that upwards of $100 million could be saved in this regard, but even more could be saved if technical volunteers were used in selected phases of these efforts, such as system testing. This is where the Internet can play a powerful role: Retired technical and scientific volunteers can be networked in a virtual work environment to carry out some of the tasks that would normally be outsourced. These virtual teams can also be used to determine requirements and to monitor performance once the project has been launched.

Another role for volunteer technical management teams could be to reduce the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on consulting contracts each year. Retired managers with the necessary qualification and expertise could act as voluntary consultants to identify requirements, delineate specifications, and develop benefit-cost analysis. In addition to the cost-saving potential, a major benefit of using retired managers is in training new managers. Most retired managers possess valuable institutional knowledge that can be utilized in developing new management teams throughout the state. Additionally, retired managers can serve as mentors and coaches to help existing managers progress through the learning curve.

Will the levels of retiree volunteerism of the past continue with the coming onslaught of retiring baby boomers? Recent trends in Australia are encouraging: There, baby boomers who volunteered while working are continuing to volunteer after retirement; meanwhile, those that did not volunteer during their working years are starting to volunteer post-retirement.[4]

To tap into the state’s goldmine of retired technical and managerial expertise, CaliforniaVolunteers must train their efforts on soliciting and organizing this population group. One obvious avenue for piloting the use of technical volunteers is within the state’s growing IT sector. Once it has been demonstrated that the concept works, it can quickly be expanded to other state agencies and even local governments.

As Matthew 10:8 says, ” …freely ye have received, freely give.” The use of retired volunteer management teams can help the state close the budget gap and provide opportunities for Californians to give back. It is a win-win scenario. There is new gold to be mined in California, but the question remains: Can the state design a process to extract these golden nuggets?


[1]Volunteering in America,” Corporation for National and Community Service, 2007.

[2] CaliforniaVolunteers.org, About Us, http://www.californiavolunteers.org/about.asp. (no longer accessible).

[3] Sheila Zedlewski, “Will Retiring Boomers Form a New Army of Volunteers?Urban Institute, no 7, December 13, 2007.

[4] Zoë Gill, “Older People and Volunteering,” Office for Volunteers, Government of South Australia, 2006.

Author of the article
Owen P. Hall, Jr., PE, PhD
Owen P. Hall, Jr., PE, PhD, , holds the Julian Virtue Professorship and is a Rothschild Applied Research Fellow. He is a Professor of Decision Sciences at Pepperdine University’s Graziado School of Business and Management. He has more than 35 years of academic and industry experience in mobile learning technologies and business analytics.
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